Veterinary telemedicine is a flop? Discussion.

The group of scientists who decided that people care for dogs more than they care for cats, ran a parallel survey across three same three countries: Austria, the UK and Denmark. And in this parallel survey they asked the participants what they thought about veterinary telemedicine, which emerged during the Covid-19 pandemic as a way for veterinarians to continue to provide a service to their clients and patients.

Veterinary telemedicine is somewhat of a flop.
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They published their research online (a link to the research is provided at the end of this article). They asked 2,117 people about their use of and beliefs in regards to veterinary telemedicine. They also asked whether their beliefs “impact past and expected future use”.

The results indicate, to me, that although people are aware of veterinary telemedicine, they don’t particularly like it perhaps because they don’t think it works as well as conventional veterinary consultations as something important might be missed. That’s my personal interpretation. The findings are that “only 12% of dog owners and 6% of cat owners have used telemedicine, and around 25% of owners who have never used it would be willing to use it in the future. Owners with a larger number of recent veterinary visits are more likely to have used telemedicine.”

As you can see those in favour of telemedicine represent quite a small percentage. The researchers concluded that dog and cat owners recognise the potential benefits but the uptake does not match this perception. As a consequence, they say that “This not only raises questions about the current availability of telemedicine but also should increase veterinary professionals’ understanding of its potential benefits in veterinary practice.”

Some detail

Only a very small minority of pet owners have used telemedicine. They probably gained their experience during the Covid-19 pandemic. This was a time when vets invested in telemedicine. But they also changed the way that they operated to ensure that they could still run their veterinary practices in the conventional way while eliminating the transmission of Covid-19 among clients and staff.

The survey states that “between 4.3% and 7.2% of cat owners and 5.7% and 16.8% of dog owners” had used vet telemedicine. In Austria and the UK a lot fewer cat owners made use of this facility compared to dog owners. And “significantly more dog owners in Austria and the UK made use of telemedicine compared to Danish dog owners.”

The participants were asked whether they would use veterinary telemedicine despite having no previous experience of it. Across the three countries, 23% of dog owners said that they would use it, 43.4% said that they would not while 33.6% said that they didn’t know. As for cat owners, 25.9% said that they would use veterinary telemedicine if offered, 45.3% said that they wouldn’t while 28.9% were unsure.

UK dog owners were the least likely to use this service in the future. Austrian cat owners were the most likely to use the service. But the differences were not large.

My interpretation of the study is that both dog and cat owners believe that telemedicine can be useful e.g. to find out whether a pet needs to see a veterinarian or as a follow-up procedure. Comment: this will indicate that they don’t believe it would work as a major consultation.

There was an agreement that something might be missed in a telemedicine consultation. At the moment, very few dog and cat owners living in Austria, Denmark and the UK have used telemedicine (12% the dog owners and 6.4% for cat owners). “Three quarters of dog and cat owners who have never used telemedicine would not make use of it or are not sure whether they would use it in the future.”

The researchers found the result surprising. I suspect that they thought telemedicine would be more popular. The low use of telemedicine during Covid-19 might be because veterinary practices “dealt with the required restrictions (e.g., reduced contact).”

In other words, they found methods to work conventionally while protecting their clients and patients.

Despite the poor results, “owners generally have positive views of telemedicine”. Participants agreed that it can improve access to specialists if there aren’t any locally. Telemedicine may be very useful in rural areas.

It would seem to me that the best advantage of telemedicine is that it can be a good form of triage, to decide whether a patient needs to be taken to the veterinary practice or whether the health problem can be dealt without a visit.

Another issue is that “veterinarians either do not offer it as an option or do not make their clients aware of it”. There are limitations to telemedicine such as the inability to perform a complete clinical examination and the potential for misdiagnosis combined with the difficulties with communication.

The overall conclusion is that people see the benefits of telemedicine but the uptake is poor which “raises questions about the current availability of telemedicine”. And there are questions as to whether veterinarians “believe the potential benefits outweigh the risks and challenges and therefore make it available and promoted to their clients.”

Link to the study.

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